Mississippi State Runs Out Of Gas At The Southeastern Conference Tournament


_ Tony Kitchings scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as South Carolina beat Mississippi State 69-62 Thursday in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The victory allowed the Gamecocks

a measure of revenge after losing the regular season finale in Starkville last weekend with starting point guard Aaron Lucas on the bench due to a sprained toe. Lucas' numbers weren't that impressive Thursday with five points and two assists. But he played most of the game in helping South Carolina, losers of five of its previous six games, advance to play No. 15 Kentucky, the East's No. 1 seed, Friday afternoon.

Mississippi State

needed a victory to enhance its NCAA tournament hopes despite playing the eighth-toughest schedule in the country. But the Bulldogs struggled right along with Tang Hamilton.

The senior was in foul trouble much of the game, and he went 0-of-6 from the floor. His only point came with 34.2 seconds left, well below his average of 13.1 points a game. Jamel Bradley and Rolando Howell each added 11 points for South Carolina, which outshot the Bulldogs 18-of-23 at the free throw line compared to 7-of-12.

The Gamecocks led by as much as eight points in the second half and provided the highlight of the game. Bradley stole an inbounds pass and passed to Michael Boynton for an easy layup only for the ball to bounce up and hang for a second on the back of the rim before falling in for a 39-31 lead with 16:20 left.

The No. 4 seed from the West, Mississippi State got back into the game thanks to freshman Mario Austin. He scored eight straight points in a 14-4 spurt that ended with two free throws from Antonio Jackson for a 45-43 lead with 9:35 to go.

The teams swapped the lead back and forth before Kitchings helped the Gamecocks take it back for good. He scored back-to-back baskets and then grabbed a rebound. Antonio Grant hit a 3-pointer, and Bradley's floating jumper left South Carolina up 56-49 with 4:51 left.

Mississippi State got within 62-59 inside of a minute, but that was as close as the Bulldogs would get. Marckell Patterson and Antonio Jackson led Mississippi State with 15 points each, and Austin finished with 12.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)